SVG Europe Sit-Down: Glodina Lostanlen at Imagine Communications talks AI and NAB

Broadcasters, networks, video service providers and enterprises around the world use Imagine Communications’ multiscreen video and ad management solutions every day to support their operations. Today, nearly half of the world’s video channels utilise the company’s products, and its software solutions drive nearly $50 billion in global ad revenue for its customers. Through continuous innovation, Imagine Communications says it is delivering the most advanced IP, cloud-enabled, software-defined network and workflow solutions in the industry. Its chief marketing officer, Glodina Lostanlen, added more information during our Sit Down.

Imagine Communications’ Glodina Lostanlen, CMO

Your recent blog states “Personalising the content consumption experience means almost nothing if you can’t monetise it.” How does Imagine Communications achieve that monetisation? 

The sentiment expressed is that declaration speaks to the paradox that continues to cast a shadow on the media and entertainment industry. Despite the fact that humans are consuming more content than ever before, and in a highly customised manner – any time, and device, media companies are unable to capitalise fully on the commercial opportunity this new era of television consumption creates. That’s largely because enhancements and advancements to the business systems that enable media companies to maximise their potential inventory across all channels have somewhat lagged in innovation behind the enabling technologies.

Media companies seek to energise their business systems with the ability to work across all methods and modes of delivery, be it linear, on-demand or even digital. They need to be able to tap into the latest breakthroughs in big data and machine learning to assist media companies in making the transformation from a ratings-based monetisation system to one based on impressions. Media companies crave business solutions that work across every add-support offering, including VOD, OTT or linear, tapping into advance ad insertion and audience-targeting capabilities to most effectively deliver the eyeballs that advertisers crave the most — all though a single, unified solution.

That’s the bar that Imagine Communications has been targeting for the past few years. It’s embodied in the next generation, modular ad management platform we call xG. Imagine Communications is focused on delivering an adtech environment that will enable media companies to optimise, manage and monetise inventory wherever or whenever it is being viewed by consumers. We are leveraging the scale of the cloud and the power of big data to arm our customers with tools to maximise inventory and seize on opportunities presented with new technology advancements. In many cases, we are collaborating with some of the biggest companies in the world to accelerate this process and develop solutions that we know will be relevant to the entire ecosystem. A case in point is our recent announcement with the north American broadcast giant Sinclair Broadcast Group. SBG is one of the most aggressive adopters of ATSC 3.0, the new digital television technology, and we are working closely with the company to help develop business systems that will enable broadcasters to financially capitalise on the new, IP-based service models made available to broadcasters by ATSC 3.0.

What do you see as the future of Artificial Intelligence when it comes to broadcasting technologies?

AI and big data are currently no strangers to the media and entertainment industry. AI engines have already logged thousands of hours, sifting through video to create, for example, precise and prolific metadata, which can be used to better match entertainment to consumers’ interests or to make it easier to assemble a highlight reel or locate assets. AI has been employed for years as a collector of customer data, feeding brands the information they need to better target their advertisements and their content, or giving media companies information instrumental in predicting the popularity of a new or even future TV show.

A second wave of AI, however, is currently washing over the media and entertainment industry, bringing with it new capabilities that seep more deeply into the decision-making realm currently inhabited by humans. More and more media companies are looking toward machine learning to both augment and replace portions of their human workforces. Even creative tasks, such as putting together a movie trailer or making operational decisions in the newsroom, are now considered candidates for automation. AI is consistently generating more and more noise at international broadcast industry events, including NAB and IBC. The impact of AI on the media and entertainment industry is already substantial. The next few years are likely to be even more disruptive.

It’s important that AI implementations over the next couple of years are introduced as augmentations to the human workforce, rather than as replacements. AI and machine learning muscle should be thrown at tasks that will benefit engineers and operators by relieving them of more-manual activities and allowing them to concentrate more heavily on creative tasks.

Imagine Communications has said “A clear goal of technology innovators in the coming year is to become intimate with their customers’ operating models, not just their infrastructures.” Can you elaborate on that statement for us?

Boiled down to the simplest terms, technology vendors need to be better listeners going forward, as well as more flexible and creative in the way they sell their innovations. Unless you have a complete understanding of how a media company makes money today and how it wishes to transition its businesses to meet future challenges, it’s nearly impossible to present a technology solution and migration strategy that is optimised to help meet the financial objectives. That requires a 360-degree view of your customer’s business.

A related component of this is offering highly customisable technology that can be bent and modified essentially on the fly to meet specific and unique requirements. The only way to accomplish that goal, which essentially enables a technology supplier to be in the business of making it easy to manufacture snowflakes, is to construct technology solutions using a microservices design architecture. Purpose-built, monolithic applications are incapable of the customisation and continuous innovation that media companies now require to realise business goals, remain on the cutting edge of the technology curve and adjust to evolving business goals swiftly and without wholesale technology swaps. By breaking down applications and services into small, discrete and heavily focused processes, media companies can wring the most efficiency and agility out of their technology resources.

The nimbleness or the power of your technology, however, doesn’t matter if you don’t make it available to media companies in a manner that is financially feasible. A major focus in 2018 will be finding ways to make it easier for media companies to move toward the modern architectures they will need to stay competitive in the future. This, of course, all comes back to listening to what your customers are telling you.

Where next for IP technology in the broadcast field?

At this stage, it’s really a matter of practical implementation, which is often dependent on company size or regional requirements, and where they are starting from. That’s the major reason we’ve championed an approach to next generation adoption we call practical innovation. The reasoning behind this approach is that innovation is as much about making the old work with the new, and enabling a seamless transition, than it is about the latest and greatest technology to come out of the labs.

Perhaps a helpful dichotomy to seize on when it comes to assessing the cutting edge of IP-based adoption is whether or not the customer is migrating existing facilities to new architectures or building out a new facility from scratch. Entering 2018, it’s safe to say that all greenfield projects are aggressive in exploiting all of the benefits of IP, including economies of scale, virtualisation and a software-only architecture. These companies are now building infrastructures that are capable of doing the most demanding operations, including playout and live production, from an IP environment.

The majority of IP projects, however, are likely to be hybrid in nature, meaning that media companies will need to gradually shift operations from predominantly SDI based infrastructures to next gen infrastructures. That’s where much of our practical innovation is being applied, and perfecting that process, by marrying the technology with business models, as mentioned above, will be a major focus in 2018.

What impact have over the top (OTT) applications had on your product development?

Imagine Communications offers a diversity of products, including those specifically aimed at OTT applications. That technology grouping includes dynamic ad insertion, manifest manipulation, packagers for different device types and other related components of an OTT infrastructure, including transcoding technology.

The increased prominence of OTT delivery was also the inspiration for the Unified Distribution architecture that we introduced a couple of years ago. Unified Distribution is all about enabling distributors and even broadcasters to gracefully migrate content and commercial delivery to networks based on HTTP and leverage adaptive bitrate technology.

The most prominent impact that the rise of OTT has had on product development at Imagine Communications is that the company is now heavily focused on extending its adtech expertise in the linear video space to nonlinear environments, including OTT. Media companies are now stretching their inventory across multiple platforms and we are empowering them to optimise, manage and, most importantly, monetise that inventory.

What innovations can we expect to see from you at NAB in April?

In addition to continuing to fine-tune the technologies mentioned above and further demonstrate that we are tuned in to the needs of our customers to make a practical, trouble-free migration to next-generation architectures, we will introduce a number of enhancements to recently introduced solution, including several that are highly applicable to sports video. The Selenio Network Process (SNP) has already found its way into multiple deployments, as its programmable processing capabilities and densities make it a perfect SDI-to-IP transitional vehicle for live production companies around the world. We’ll also be featuring the latest enhancements to Versio Platform for playout and our hybrid SDI/IP multiviewer, EPIC MV, which is also becoming a mainstay in live production environments in Europe and elsewhere.

Do you have an innovative European case study you can share with us?

One of the first and most emblematic deployments of SNP is Swiss broadcast service company tpc. The company selected the SNP for its new mobile production vehicle primarily for its support of uncompressed UHD signals over IP connections based on the recently ratified SMPTE ST 2110 standards. Both an SDI-to-IP gateway and pure-IP processing systems, the SNP is enabling tpc to address both existing and future market demands while reducing costs and positioning the company to seamless incorporate new technologies into its mobile production workflows.

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